History Of Our Building
It is thus often with a great city – hidden away, a few minutes from the busy thoroughfares, and the passing of men, is preserved a corner of peaceful quiet, which, from the contrast of its surroundings, takes on a beauty of its own. Ely Place is one of the few spots left in Dublin that has an old world solitude. It has retained the respectable dignity of its first greatness, and although the memories of the great past invest it with all that was full of life and brilliancy in the Dublin of old, there remains somehow something that is fitting in the quiet respectability of the present. There is probably no place for its extent that comprises so many interesting incidents as the little cul-de-sac that we call Ely Place.
– Ada Peter, Sketches of Old Dublin (1907)
Prior to 1768 the land to the east of St Stephen’s Green had not yet been built upon. It was a parcel of ground belonging to the Blue Coat School and Hospital, which was then located in Queen Street.
In 1768, Gustavus Hume, who was a surgeon attached to Mercer’s Hospital and a speculative builder, laid out Hume Street and the adjoining cul-de-sac (marked as Hume Row in John Rocque’s 1756 map of Dublin). Ely House, what is now No. 8 Ely Place, was commenced in 1771, and became home to Henry Loftus, the Earl of Ely and son-in-law of Gustavus Hume. From then until the close of the century, other townhouses were built along the extent of Ely Place, including some classic examples of Georgian architecture. They were, as Ada Peter put it: ‘splendid mansions of the olden times with their exquisite mantelpieces, stuccoed walls and ceilings, superb apartments, and lofty proportions. Stately dames passed up the grand staircases, and the renowned beauties of the Irish capital made bright the gay receptions that were given in them by the lordly owners. For Ely Place was essentially the abode of peers.’
Ely Place was notable for the number of high ranking lawyers who made their abode here. John Fitzgibbon, the Earl of Clare, who was Lord Chancellor during the United Irishmen Rebellion, lived in No. 6. The Freeman’s Journal reported that on 31 March 1795, an angry mob followed the Lord Chancellor’s carriage from Dublin Castle to his home in Ely Place, and attacked the house, throwing paving stones though the windows and striking Fitzgibbon on the head. Ada Peter referred to the incident writing: ‘To this day in the adjoining residence can be seen the holes in the stone stairs made to allow the muskets of the soldiers to pass through for firing on an infuriated populace, who might enter the home of an unpopular judge.’
Another Lord Chancellor, Baron Redesdale d.1830, also resided in Ely Place. Two Lord Chief Justices, Charles Kendal Bushe and John Doherty lived in No. 5. While No. 4 was once home to John Philpot Curran, famous orator, politician and wit. It was he who coined the phrase: ‘The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.’ The following less exalted exchange was also attributed to him:
“Curran,” said a judge to him, whose wig being a little awry, caused some laughter in court, “do you see anything ridiculous in this wig?” “Nothing but the head, my lord;” was the reply.
Scale’s 1773 survey of Dublin (above) notes a building on the corner of Merrion Row, the site of No. 24 Ely Place. But it appears as if it was a minor structure, perhaps a stable or out-house. It was most likely demolished when the west side of Ely Row was laid out. On 17 November 1783, the plot of ground of No. 24 was leased from William Dunn, Esq. to Charles Thorp, described in the lease as a “Plaisterer” – an archaic term for stuccadore. As an indication of the prestige of the location, both these men were Lord Mayors of Dublin, Dunn from 1777-78, and Thorpe from 1800-1801. Half way through Thorp’s one-year term of office, the aldermen, sheriffs, commons and citizens of Dublin presented him with an address which acknowledged his: “humane and public spirited conduct”, his “unparalleled exertions for public good,” and particularly his attention to the relief of the poor. “We have no doubt of your steady perseverance to continue throughout your mayoralty this line of conduct, you so actively and so peculiarly began in detecting fraud, monopoly, forestalling, regrating, and other impositions, which were and shamefully practised on the inhabitants of this great city.”
On 7 January 1789, Thorp demised the plot to Edward Burne, a merchant of the city of Dublin. It’s likely that Burne erected what is now No. 24 Ely Place soon after, for in a lease dated 30 August 1792, he remised the new dwelling house on that same plot to a Robert Hunter, who could well have been its first resident.
Since it occupied a corner site, the house fronted onto Ely Place, but there was also a shop-front that faced onto Merrion Row. Consequently the house has had a mixture of residential and commercial use over its two hundred year history. For example, C. O’Neill ran a chandler’s shop from 19 Merrion Row in the first quarter of the 19th Century. But the following ad, which appeared in The Freeman’s Journal on 24 January 1815, demonstrates that the living quarters of 24 Ely Place were rented out to other occupants:
The first members of the legal profession to reside in No. 24 Ely Place were Charles Maturin and his brother John, a barrister and solicitor respectively, who lived here in 1835 and 1836 according to Thom’s Directory. The Maturins were descended from a Huguenot family that arrived in Ireland in the early 18th Century. They were no doubt closely related to the gothic novelist Charles Robert Maturin (1782-1824), the author of Melmoth the Wanderer.
By far the longest-term residents of No. 24 Ely Place were the Carey family. Pierce Carey, a wax and tallow chandler (just like a previous occupant, C. O’Neill) moved into the house in 1844 and began operating from the attached shop-front. Faint fragments of lettering from his shop sign can still be seen in the façade on Merrion Row. Pierce Carey was a Catholic and staunch supporter of Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association, founded to repeal the 1801 Act of Union. The following report is from 18 January 1841:
At a numerous and highly respectable Meeting of the Tallow Chandlers and Soap Boilers, held at the Corn Exchange Great Room, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted…That we view with unfeigned feelings of sorrow and regret the pauperised and degraded state of our city, once so flourishing and happy, but now, alas! presenting nothing save dilapidated houses, ruined manufactories and distressed artisans of every class…That our revered and respected fellow-citizen and representative, Daniel O’Connell, Esq., M.P., the illustrious father and liberator of his country, possesses and enjoys the full measure of our entire and unlimited confidence in the present glorious struggle he is making for the regeneration of his country. Moved by Mr. Pierce Carey; seconded by Mr. John Kane: Resolved.
Carey was the occupant of No. 24 when the London Illustrated News printed an extensive drawing of the city of Dublin in 1846. The corner of Ely Place and Merrion Row can be seen in the foreground. The depiction isn’t entirely accurate, as the front door seems to be in the wrong position relative to the windows. Nonetheless, it is an interesting snapshot of the city:
Not long after, Carey suffered a personal and financial set-back when a fire devastated his house and shop. The Freeman’s Journal reported on 15 February 1847:
Throughout their residency, the Carey family were rarely the sole occupants of No. 24. The fire of 1847 prompted this ad from the physician, R. Brodie:
Pierce Carey’s wife was Alicia, daughter of Maurice Nolan. They had several children who grew up in the house, including daughters, Jane (a teacher of music), Alice, Mary Frances and Annie (a restaurant manager), and sons Moses and Edward, both commercial travellers. They had another daughter called Teresa Carey. She was a little-known artist, though she did display her work at the Irish Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in Dublin in 1882. A catalogue from the event shows that her painting, The Village Blacksmith, sold for £20, quite a sum in the late Victorian period.
Pierce Carey died sometime in the late 19th Century, for his wife Alicia is noted as a widow in the 1901 census. She died in No. 24 on 18 May 1913. Members of the Carey family remained in the house until the 1940s. Teresa Carey, the painter, was the last surviving daughter. She died in St Michael’s Hospital, Dun Laoghaire on 7 September 1943.
In common with many of the Georgian streets and squares in the surrounding Pembroke Estate, residential use of houses in Ely Place dwindled in the second half of the 20th Century. The rooms in No. 24 were converted into offices, and an array of companies and professionals conducted their business from this address. One of the more prominent was the architect Lionel Crosby, who worked here between 1952 and 1961. His obituary noted that he, ‘trained for his profession the hard way in the 1920’s, by night study, constant observation of design and construction, and office work by day…For a man of such rugged demeanour the delicacy of his touch with pencil, pen or brush was particularly notable.’
Crosby was a regular correspondent to The Irish Times, offering his opinion on a wide range of social issues, but with particular emphasis on architecture. In a letter dated 11 November 1942 he wrote, ‘The architect is essentially a leader, his field of activity is very large, requiring an expert knowledge of building construction in every building material and trade, an extensive knowledge of the laws of contract, the multitudinous statutory laws…He must have ability to design, draw, express himself, and, above all to plan successfully almost anything from the simplest to the most complicated specialised building.’
He worked in a Georgian building, at a time when much of the fabric of the Georgian city was being demolished. But while based in No. 24, he took pains to defend his profession. He wrote on 9 December 1960: ‘It is largely due to the architectural profession and its associated interests that so much of the Georgian work has been preserved. There is a general impression that the Georgian buildings in Dublin are well built. Quite a lot of them are not, but are in fact quite poor structures. Their beauty is to a very considerable degree skin-deep.’ In a another letter he deplored the trend for replacing demolished Georgian buildings with pastiches of the original. On 8 July 1961 he wrote: ‘Georgian architecture, whose origin was Dutch, was the result of constructional limitations; such limitations do not apply today…Today the architect and engineer can design and construct almost without structural limitations as to form.’ He praised the authorities of Trinity College for choosing so bold a design for the new Berkeley Library, but he finished by saying, ‘there is nothing wrong with Georgian architecture, and there can be few who take greater pleasure than myself in the beauty of what is left of it in Dublin.’
Crosby died on 31 August 1979 at the age of seventy-five. His obituary noted his colourful personality, ‘peppery perhaps, but always meticulously fair, giving especial help to those he found during the course of his business to be most in need, and his qualities of courage and integrity were admired by all he encountered.’
Other agencies that were based in No. 24 Ely Place in the 1970s and 80s included Michael O’Reilly Associates Public Relations, The Irish Marketing Surveys, The Speedwriting Institute, Irish Consumer Research, The Microcomputer Unit.
John C Walsh & Co. was established by John C Walsh, as sole practitioner in 1958. The practice developed on a foundation of confidentiality, professionalism and legal expertise with the primary focus of the firm’s work being in the areas of conveyancing, probate, and litigation. Prior to moving to the current address, 24 Ely place, John C Walsh & Co. was based at 11 Hume Street. In 1978 Jerry O’Brien joined the firm and became a partner in 1983. In 1988 Mary Griffin joined the firm following the untimely death of John C. In 1992 the firm moved to the current address at 24 Ely Place. Mary Griffin’s expertise in family law further broadened the firm’s areas of practice. Ruairi O’Brien trained with the firm and qualified as a solicitor in 2010. Aoife O’Brien is a trainee solicitor and will qualify in 2017. The firm also has the benefit of able, dedicated and experienced staff